Irish aid worker in plane crash in Kosovo

 

An Irishwoman working with the aid agency Goal was among those on board an aircraft which crashed in a minefield in northern Kosovo yesterday.

Ms Andrea Curry (24), a civil engineer from Armagh, was on her first trip overseas with the agency. She had flown from Ireland to Rome on Thursday before boarding the World Food Programme flight early yesterday to Kosovo.

The aid plane, which disappeared while making its approach to Pristina airport, was carrying 20 other passengers and three crew members.

Ms Curry was embarking on a one-year contract as a volunteer with Goal, in which she was to help with the rebuilding of schools and homes in Peje and Pristina.

A graduate of Queen's University, she had previously worked in commercial operations in Kenya and Kazakhstan.

Goal's director, Mr John O'Shea, said she was "a really professional young lady who was determined to make a difference. Our thoughts at this time are first and foremost with her family."

Two members of the agency travelled last night to Ms Curry's home to offer support to her parents and her two sisters, one of whom is a twin.

The plane which crashed was a two-engined craft on a regular shuttle service between Kosovo and Rome for the UN's World Food Programme, and is popular with aid officials, diplomats and journalists.

There was no word last night of confirmed casualties, and no idea of why the plane should come down only minutes from Pristina airport. Aid officials said they would inform families of the dead before announcing their names.

The plane fell from NATO radar screens at approximately 11 a.m. Wreckage was later found 15 miles north of the Kosovan capital at the village of Slakovce.

One unconfirmed report from an international official in Kosovo last night said the plane had earlier had engine trouble on its flight from Italy, and had diverted that morning to the airport at the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

After repairs, said the source, the plane took off bound for Pristina and then disappeared from radar screens.

It marks another unhappy episode in the history of international operations in the Balkans: two years ago 12 diplomats, including a leading German envoy, Mr Gerd Wagner, died when a UN-chartered helicopter flew into a mountain near Sarajevo.

Since NATO occupied Kosovo in June, only one aid worker has been killed, a Bulgarian-American shot dead by ethnic Albanians in Pristina after he was overheard speaking Serbian.

In 1995 an armoured personnel carrier slipped and rolled down a Sarajevo mountainside killing a team of US negotiators putting together what later became the Dayton peace agreement.